Equal Wrongdoing Doctrine Known as In Pari Delicto
There is a legal doctrine known by its Latin phrase, in pari delicto, that:
[R]efers to ‘[t]he principle that a plaintiff who has participated in wrongdoing may not recover damages resulting from the wrongdoing.” This principle is ‘grounded on two premises: first, that courts should not lend their good offices to mediating disputes among wrongdoers; and second, that denying judicial relief to an admitted wrongdoer is an effective means of deterring illegality.’
Perry v. Turner, 48 Fla.L.Weekly D1307a (Fla. 2nd DCA 2023) (internal citations omitted).
As shown, it is premised on the fact that one cannot be rewarded for their equal wrongdoing, i.e., participation in the wrongdoing.
The case of Perry demonstrates the application of this in pari delicto doctrine.
In this case, a couple dated for years. During the relationship, the man transferred money to the woman’s bank account. The woman used the money to purchase property in her name or the name of a company the man owned. The man also made cash transfers to the woman during the relationship which she held in a safe deposit box or financial institution. When the relationship ended, the woman sued to evict the man from the home they resided. The man countersued to recoup properties purchased with his money and funds he transferred to her. The woman asserted the defense of in pari delicto. But what was the wrongdoing the man committed? The woman claimed the man transferred money to her to evade his creditors including his ex-wife because the less income he reported the less child support he owed. The woman presented evidence of this at trial.
After a non-jury trial, the trial court entered final judgment in favor of the woman fining that in pari delicto (and unclean hands) applied as to the man’s counterclaim to recover properties and funds. The man appealed and lost.
This case falls squarely within the principle and purpose of in pari delicto. The trial court found that both parties knowingly and willfully participated in wrongdoing. They schemed to transfer [the man’s] money and assets to [the woman] to conceal them from [the man’s] ex-wife to whom [the man] owed child support. “Child support is a right belonging to the child.” And any agreement, whether express or implied, that purports to relieve a father of his duty to support his children offends public policy.
[The man] argues that this is not enough; he contends that proof of illegal — and not just wrongful — conduct is required for the doctrine of in pari delicto to apply. Nothing in the case law or the doctrine’s definition requires evidence of illegality or criminality. Further, Florida courts have long held that an agreement “offensive to public policy is void and unenforceable” if “the parties to such an agreement are in pari delicto.” In such cases, “the law will leave [the parties] where it finds them” and “relief will be refused in the courts because of public interest.”
In this case, the trial court left [the man] and [the woman] where it found them. It refused to “aid [the man] in extricating himself from the situation he has created.”
Perry, supra (internal citations omitted).
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